It’s tough to tell if Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle can improve on the atmospheric, but janky, gameplay of Daymare: 1998 from just a demo. However, my initial impressions after just 30 minutes of combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving left me desperate to play more. That’s definitely a good indication of where developer Invader Studios is taking its survival horror prequel.
There are new characters, locations, and equipment, so this preview will cover everything new, improved, and unfortunately absent in the short demo.
Daymare 1994: Sandcastle is available to play as a free demo between February 21 – 28 during Steam’s Next Fest. The full game is slated to release in 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Series X|S.
Story – Read All About It
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle takes place four years before the events of the original. This means playable protagonists Liev, Sam, and Raven are out, and H.A.D.E.S operative Dalila Reyes is in. It’s unknown if Dalila is the only playable character, but she is the only one available in the demo. Unfortunately, there’s little to no story or character development present either. The only thing we get to know is that Dalila is looking for her unit commander, Foster. He survived an assault from Section 8 commandos, but here’s no context to any of this information. The only details provided are drip-fed through documents and tape recordings. A classic technique that survival horror fans of games like Resident Evil should enjoy. With nobody to talk to besides the electrifying enemies, it’s unclear if the voice acting has improved from the original’s borderline satiric deliveries.
Gameplay – Ice-Cold Killer
Those electrifying enemies mentioned are new additions, and so are the combat techniques you need to implement in order to kill them. Shambling Romero zombies might make a return in the full game, but the demo exclusively pits Dalila against these faster creatures. This makes the combat tenser, and scarier. I highly recommend playing with headphones if you want to raise your heart rate even further. It’s not the scariest slice of gameplay out there, but I did find myself panicking a lot when multiple creatures raced toward me. This doesn’t happen often while I’m playing third-person action titles, so color me impressed.
Another new addition is the “Post-Mortem Gift” Daymare 1994‘s new enemies produce when killed. This electromagnetic charge travels to a new host, making them tougher to take down. This is where the new Frost Grip equipment comes in to play. You can spray enemies until they freeze, then use a blast from a shotgun or machine gun to finish them off. Dalila can also release a blast from the Frost Grip as a defensive strategy if grabbed by one of the creepy creatures. I was pretty bad at lining up my shots, so I ended up doing this multiple times. Who knew failing at combat could be so fun.
As it uses a limited resource, this new freezing mechanic brings a higher level of strategy to combat. It can also be used to solve environmental puzzles. I had to put out fires and cool down overheating pipes to continue exploring. It’s a great tool that shows Invader Studios is focusing on making their game better, not just replicating survival horror games from the 90’s anymore. That said, the puzzles aren’t any easier to figure out. Personally, I love this approach, but it admittedly isn’t very friendly to those who don’t. This isn’t The Witness level of problem-solving. However, the confusing nature around what you’re actually working toward could be a real turn-off for some. The two puzzles in the demo took me a fraction of the time I spent pondering over solutions in the original, at least.
One thing conspicuously absent from the demo was a boss fight. Normal for most short demos, but the original had notoriously buggy and poorly designed boss battles. Hopefully this isn’t an indication of the same problem, and just a choice to focus on impressing with standard combat and exploration elements instead.
Graphics & Audio – Big Improvements
I was immediately impressed by the visuals the moment I booted the demo up. The environments were decent in Daymare: 1988, but are noticeably better here. The biggest graphical improvement comes to the characters. Faces had a strange smoothness to their odd polygonal models in the original, resulting in a scarier design than most of the creatures. It remains to be seen if cutscenes hold up, but looking at Dalila Reyes alone is promising.
As mentioned, I recommend playing the demo with headphones. It’s a much tenser and isolating experience that really helps sell the scary nature of facing enemies. The new ping feature is very useful for discovering key items and resources, but can be a tad loud compared to other audio. This is a small price to pay for streamlined exploration, so I’m happy to see it as a new feature.
Daymare: 1994 Sandcastle was previewed via a demo available on Steam.